As I considered various tales of hope, despair, injustice, or resilience in selecting a topic for this column I was prompted to go above the political fray and look to someone who is doing a lot, but rarely even mentioned - FLOTUS.
Presently, Americans fall into two camps: those who take a stand to preserve individual liberty and the Black Lives Mafia who would dictate their priorities on to others. Melania Trump exemplifies a different American ideal: be an example of your best effort, or in her words “#Be Best”. As she says “I encourage everyone who chooses to be negative and question my work at the White House to take time and contribute something good and productive in their own communities. #BeBest.”
The value of being your best became an international trend in 2017 when Canadian psychologist Dr Jordan B Peterson suggested that young people are overly concerned with social justice or reorganizing society and the economic system when they can’t even organize their own bedrooms.
He said: “…don’t be fixing up the economy and social systems, 18-year-olds. You don’t know anything about these complex machines. Can you even clean up your own room? No. Well you think about that. You should think about that, because if you can’t even clean up your own room, who the hell are you to give advice to the world?”
What has Melania been doing?
The first lady highlighted several new programs that tie in with President Trump’s agenda.
First, Melania was briefed on the findings and report of the Presidential Task Force on Protecting Native American Children in the Indian Health Care System. President Trump had formed a Presidential Task Force on March 26th, 2019, to look into Protecting Native American Children in the Indian Health Service System. It aimed “to investigate the institutional and systemic breakdown that failed to prevent and stop, after detection, a predatory pediatrician working at the Indian Health Service (IHS) from sexually assaulting children”.
IHS is a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and provides comprehensive clinical and public health services to over 2.6 million Native Americans through a network of hospitals and clinics across 37 states. It was systemic and institutional failings as well as employees who neglect to report wrong-doings, which allowed that pediatrician to sexually assault children for decades. The predatory pediatrician no longer works for the agency, was successfully prosecuted, and sentenced to five life sentences. President Trump noted that such longstanding systemic and institutional failures that failed to prevent child abuse at IHS was unconscionable and inconsistent with the agency’s mission to “raise the physical, mental, social, and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaska Natives to the highest level”.
The Task Force was thus instructed to identify ways to better protect Native American children and improve the Indian Health System. It found a number of ingrained and longstanding deficiencies such as “employees not understanding child abuse reporting obligations; confusing policies, procedures, and jurisdictional issues when reporting suspected child abuse. Systemic issues of low-morale, lack of leadership, and inability to recruit and retain enough qualified healthcare professionals and deficiencies in verifying and credentialing processes”.
The Task Force recommended ten urgent changes such as withholding retiree pay and benefits for civil service employees convicted of sexual exploitation crimes against children. Another recommendation makes reporting child abuse easier and more streamlined by creating and publicizing a centralized child abuse hotline. The report’s recommendations are detailed here and it concluded that the President task the Secretary of HHS with following up on the recommendations every ninety days until they are all implemented. Melania has been helping coordinate this work.
Moreover, rooting out bureaucratic inefficiencies and failings has been one of the most diligently pursued efforts of the Trump administration. While shinning a spotlight on serving the American Indian community coincides with the earlier - Operation Lady Justice executive order – to address the crisis of missing and murdered women and girls in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
Making a difference
Melania has also made foster care a top priority as part of the Be Best campaign.
She says, presently “there are over 400,000 children and youth in the foster care system and 124,000 of them are awaiting permanent placement with a forever family”. She emphasized that the Trump administration is committed to ensuring that children benefit from the care and support of loving, permanent families, preferably in their own homes whenever possible. “As my husband, President Donald Trump said, ‘The best foster care system is one that is not needed in the first place, which is done by supporting children and families long before they need to enter the system.’” Still, we understand that prevention efforts will not completely eliminate the need for foster care services. To support this, she held a round-table that emphasized things like how hard it is for siblings who are forced apart when they enter the foster care system.
Building on the momentum of Trump’s June 24th Executive Order Strengthening the Child Welfare System for America’s Children, Melania is working with the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson to find permanent homes for the 124,000 children waiting for placement.
Melania’s round-table was a way to connect Federal officials with governors, human services leaders, philanthropic organizations, and faith-based organizations to improve the lives of these vulnerable children and families. And also, a way to ask governors and state leaders to consider extending the foster care age from 18 to 21, host round-tables of their own to heighten the issue, work with courts to expedite quality hearings, and identify laws or barriers that stand in the way of helping the children.
That Rose Garden story...
On July 27th Melania Trump presented a 241-page plan for renewal and improvement of the iconic White House Rose Garden. She says that “decades of use and necessary changes made to support the modern presidency have taken a toll on the garden and have made it more difficult to appreciate the elegant symmetry of the Bunny Mellon plan which has guided the garden’s design since 1962”.
She continued to say that her renovations will return to this 1962 blueprint but also make improvements via infrastructure, better drainage, and a healthier environment for plantings that have been affected by overgrowing roots or leaf blight. The plan came at the same time as Melania honored the 30-year anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and she emphasized America’s commitment in this regard by incorporating the needs of disabled Americans into the new design. Accommodation will also be to meet the needs of the events, ceremonies, and broadcasting that take place in the beautiful and historic garden.
For example, a modernized and updated system of cables and power connections will be put under the pallets of a new border surrounding the grassy area of the garden out of sight. The plan also reveals the addition of two limestone walkways, one to the inner perimeter of the garden. The second, a stunning 85 feet long design with a diamond pattern, will stretch from the Palm Room of the White House to the south grounds. In terms of roses, Melania has selected the "White House Rose," a tall white vertical-style; the "JFK Rose," which is cream-colored; and the "Peace Rose," a smaller tea rose variety, with a pale yellow center and light pink edges. And, a new bench has been commissioned, similar to the one Ellen Wilson had placed in the garden and stayed there from 1913 until 1962.
Nevertheless, a large number of American commentators, including Dan Rather, and former Congresswomen, Katie Hill, decided the best way to relay details of Melania’s work to the public would be to frame it as “some Marie Antoinette s***.” This referred to Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France, who had supposedly remarked “let them eat cake” after being told that her peasant subjects were starving. I would implore any American commentator making such critiques to say that they are proud of those statements, and it is a true representation of the story? It’s not, and it is reprehensible.
Moreover, in response to other critics who said that that the timing of the renovation is insensitive given that there 18 million unemployed and civil unrest, overlooks the fact that Melania is actually enabling work to continue, rather than having those working on the project furloughed or laid off. It is a big project which began last year and calls on the services of architects, historians who are used to do museum level research into the project, gardeners, electricians, outdoor furniture experts, and national park service employees, to name a few.
This project builds off the design work that Melania has previously undertaken to updated areas and features of the White House and its grounds like the bowling alley, the South Lawn tennis pavilion, furniture restoration in the Blue Room, wall coverings in the Red Room, the rug in the Diplomatic Reception Room, and the draperies in the Green Room. See the results here.
It is also an entirely appropriate project, as Melania says, to update areas and meet the needs of the modern presidency, especially that of President Trump, who is far more accessible and available than any other.
In short, Melania is an asset, a great example of how to be your best, stand above those who engage in pettiness. Her projects are dedicated to American ideals, as she says “the very act of planting a garden involves hard work and hope in the possibility of a bright future.” Do not let any mainstream click-bait addict tell you otherwise.
Carol King received a first class BA (honors) in History and Politics from Stirling University, along with an exceptional commendation for a study on US public opinion and Foreign Policy. She also completed a year of study at University of London before taking up a Graduate Proctor Fellowship at Princeton University. She further completed a MPhil in American Politics at Dundee University. Aspiring to be a writer/commentator on American politics, she now writes for UncoverDC.